My real summer vacation was so long ago, I hardly remember it. It must have been when my son was still in school and we planned our vacation around his. There is no need for that any more, because my son has grown up and goes on vacation with his friends, not his parents, and whenever he pleases or his work permits. My husband and I, practically empty-nesters, have discovered new joys (and new burdens) having become doggy parents. Our ‘kids’, Meeshka and Maya, black and white Sheltie-American Eskimo mix came from a local pet store two and a half years back and have ruled most of our important decisions ever since.
If you ever owned a dog, you would be right to assume that with the arrival of two furry bundles of exuberant energy and affection, decisions concerning our holidays have been affected the most. Every discussion about our vacation plans inevitably circles back to one question – what are we going to do with the ‘kids’? Taking them with us on trips that involve air travel is not something I would seriously consider because of the logistics and the amount of stress to us and the dogs. So if we decide to go to the Caribbean or Europe, we need someone to look after the pups. Putting Meeshka and Maya in a kennel or somebody else’s house is out of the question: they are delicate creatures, we can’t traumatize them by a week-long stay in an unfamiliar environment. That leaves us with my son and my husband’s brother for dog-sitters. Neither is a particularly good choice for the task — in my eyes, that is, and for reasons trivial enough not to be mentioned here. Together, however, they make a satisfactory team. The need to plan around both their schedules adds to the complexities of going on a holiday without our dogs and forces us to look for other solutions that bring them back into the picture.
Fortunately, both my husband and I are avid outdoor enthusiasts, and simple joys of tenting, hiking, fishing, boating and sitting by the campfire under a starry night sky give us a much-needed respite from hectic city life. And the best part – dogs can come camping too! So this summer we didn’t take what I would call a ‘vacation’, but spent a few weekends in Alberta’s badlands, a place called Tolman Bridge 60 km north of Drumheller and 23 km east of Trochu. This little gem of a park is nestled in the Red Deer River valley among spectacular hoodoos, grasslands, ridges and gullies. Every time we drive to Tolman Bridge, an abrupt change in terrain takes me by surprise: imagine driving for a while across vast expanses of green and yellow crop fields punctuated with ranches and grain towers; grazing cows, horses and sheep scattered throughout the flat cultivated landscape – when—in an instant – the scenery transforms into a surreal exhibit of oddly shaped hills as if carved in the earth by an eccentric and fanciful sculptor. With its fantastic views and breathtaking sunsets, this land can be a perfect playground and source of inspiration for a landscape artist or a photographer. I don’t fancy myself a particularly skillful artist and my photography skills leave much to be desired, but I always bring my digital camera along on these trips, because the scenery can make even a lousy photographer like me look good.
The Tolman Bridge campground is fairly large with individual campsites conveniently separated by thick brush, providing plenty of room for Meeshka and Maya to run around offleash, without disturbing our neighbours. The fun can’t be spoiled even by dry toilets and absence of running water. The nearby Red Deer River looks a bit muddy for swimming, but on it I noticed quite a few rafters and boaters. I really like this place. For all its beauty it never seems too busy even on summer long weekends and it only takes a couple of hours to get here from Calgary. In the past, before we became doggy ‘mama’ and ‘papa’, we used to go camping in BC a lot, but a trip to BC can take more than four hours one way and with all the stops for the dogs it may well be six or seven hours. Our newly discovered Alberta get-away, however, requires little preparation and is much easier to do on a whim.
Recently, when my co-worker told me about her two-week cycling tour in Italy, I felt a twinge of envy – a two-week European vacation would be next to impossible for us to arrange, unless my husband and I each went separately. For a brief moment, I was stunned by the realization how much our lifestyle had changed with doggy parenthood. Maybe it’s time for me to wake up and smell the coffee – our freedom to choose where and when to go on vacation has gone to the dogs. But on a second thought, it may not be such a bad thing. In fact, Meeshka and Maya have filled our lives with a new appreciation for life’s little treasures. Thanks to them, we keep discovering wonderful new places close to home, like Tolman Bridge.